The incredible West Virginian coalfield leader Judy Bonds died of cancer on January 3rd, 2010. Judy was 58 years old.
Much has been written about Judy since she won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003 for her work to abolish mountaintop removal coal mining, to protect kids at an elementary school who were sick from coal dust, and to return Appalachia to an environmentally sustainable way of life.
The Washington Post article, which nicely details Judy's evolution from mother and waitress to Goldman Prize winner, quotes the fundamental simplicity of Judy's message, "The health and safety of Appalachia's poor were being sacrificed for the profits of energy companies."
I met Judy 6 years ago at the first demonstration to protect the kids at Marsh Fork Elementary. It was my first film shoot with MTR activists, having already covered all the "industry" material I knew I needed for my film, Burning the Future.
Judy's short stature belied her awesome power. She had an ability to deliver a message on point, with fervor, and still have a smile in her eyes beyond the anger. That's how she was with friends in the crowd -- an example of loving strength. Judy rallied the crowd and then turned to me to say, "this is a war, and it's only the beginning. You and all those other folks with cameras and microphones, you have a job to do in this war. I hope you do it."
Judy then marched with Bo Webb onto the bridge, over the Coal River that she loved so much, and towards the security guards demanding that the coal operators come talk with them. Of course, none came so Judy and Bo held their ground until they were put into a police car and taken away amidst cheering crowds.
This was my introduction to MTR activism, my welcome wagon from a breed of humanity that has had uniquely fertile ground in Appalachia, my baptism into our shared responsibility to bring MTR's demise no matter who we are, no matter where we live. The introduction came with fervor, with anger, with purpose, with tears, and with smiling eyes and cheers. It came from Judy. And I hope that I, "and all those other folks with cameras and microphones" do a job of which Judy will be eternally proud.
Over the years, I've seen Judy's army of neighbors grow from a few dozen in the Coal River Valley to many, many thousands around the world. Judy will always be loved by the growing masses who have cheered her work and who now cheer her journey on.
Judy's family has requested that donations are made in her name to Coal River Mountain Watch, where Judy was the Executive Director, to help them continue her important work.